Obama's new burst of optimism

US President Barack Obama at a fundraiser in Chicago, Illinois 11 January 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption According to recent polls, Barack Obama is the current favourite if elections were held today

In Los Angeles, US President Barack Obama has told a roomful of supporters with $35,800 to spare for dinner - among them George Clooney - that they must help people "channel optimism".

The president himself has reasons to feel a little more chipper at the moment. There have been a slew of opinion polls full of good news for his chances of re-election.

A CNN poll has his approval rating back at 50% for the first time in eight months, as does one from ABC and the Washington Post.

Rasmussen puts him on 49%, but the 34% who believe the US is heading in the right direction is up 10 points on last month.

It also suggests he would beat either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum (by 47-43 and 47-41 respectively).

Voter incentive

There are yet more reasons for the president to be cheerful. No, not the return of Obama girl. It's the news from the Republican race.

A series of polls indicate Mr Santorum is beating Mr Romney by 12% in a national poll and by an average of 8% in Michigan, where there is a primary at the end of this month.

If Mr Romney can't win the state where he was born and where his father was a very popular governor, it would be a body blow. Many would seriously start to question whether he can win the nomination.

Why is that good news for President Obama? For a start, the longer the Republicans are undecided, the more diluted their message.

Most reporting will concentrate on the internal spats and the ups and downs of state-by-state elections, rather than policy differences with the president.

More importantly, Mr Santorum should be easier to beat than Mr Romney.

His social conservatism will do two things. First, he annoys the Democratic base in a way that Mr Romney doesn't.

If he is the candidate, Democrats will have a real incentive to campaign and vote.

Then, my hunch is that it will play badly with independent voters, particularly his opposition to contraception.

He may convince voters that he wouldn't campaign against it as president, but he would have to spend valuable time doing so.

European danger

But President Obama's real advantage at the moment is the data that shows the economy improving.

For a couple of years the recovery seemed to be stalled, there on paper but not on Main Street.

Then, just before last summer, things seemed to go backwards. Gloom spread and the president's ratings fell. Now the figures are much better, from unemployment to manufacturing.

But take a look at General Motors' record profits. They actually fell in the last quarter because of poor sales outside the US.

These good figures may not survive in a world that is not doing as well as America.

Capitalism in one country won't work for the USA. If the economic optimism doesn't last, President Obama's recovery will be short-lived as well.